They are the forgotten ones, the hidden people. Once they were honoured by our ancestors, in the days when people still walked the earth with respect and remembered the old ways, but there is no room in this new world for their old magic. They have been forgotten. But they wait amongst the trees, and their magic has power still.
Walking through the forest one still quiet evening I listened to the birds sing their sunset songs and felt that all was right with the world. My work was going well, my marriage was happy, my eldest daughter had just started school. I felt totally at peace and found it hard to believe that anything could ever go wrong. The forest's cool silence perfectly suited my mood and I felt the hustle and bustle of the everyday world slip away from me. But as I passed along the familiar path I began to feel as though someone was watching me.
A cliché I know; who hasn't had that feeling when they're walking alone? I dismissed it as simple paranoia but as the sun dropped further behind the trees and the darkness gathered I couldn't help but speed my footsteps, suddenly anxious to be home with my family. As I hurried along the path I noticed a circle of toadstools growing across the route in front of me. Thinking of nothing but my sudden desire to be home I stepped into it. Then the world disappeared.
I came to in darkness. For a second I lay still, wondering what on earth had happened. I must have fallen and hit my head but the daylight had disappeared completely, how long had I been unconscious? Then, as I began to get more of a sense of the place surrounding me, I realised I was no longer in the forest at all but somewhere altogether different. For the air smelt different and instead of leaf mould I was lying on a floor of compacted earth. In fact all my senses were indicating that I was in a large underground cavern, which defied all logic. Just as I was deciding that I must still be unconscious and dreaming tiny little lights began appearing all over the cavern, illuminating the earthen walls. They weren't like any electric light I'd ever seen but they stayed steady, not flickering like a flame. The lights grew gradually brighter, until at last I could see the beings that held them.
Now I knew I was dreaming. For behind every one of those steady lights stood creatures that I can only describe as being out of a fairytale, albeit one drawn by Salvador Dali. Blue pixies with iridescent wings but mouths full of sharpened fangs, grizzled gnomes who might have been carved from stone except for the expression of hatred on their faces, small men dressed in green who must have been leprechauns but with long claws that the greetings cards never showed. All these and thousands more creatures from out of the old stories, elves, dryads, nymphs, fairies, sprites, each just as the pictures show them except for small details that changed them from cute fairytales to terrifying nightmares. They filled the cavern completely, surrounding me, and without exception stared at me with utter malice.
‘Who are you?' I stammered, trying to remember when I had ever had a dream that felt so real.
‘We are the hidden ones.' The reply came
‘The small people.'
‘The fair folk.'
‘The spirits of the forest'
‘We are the myths, the legends, the fairytales.'
‘We are the old power...and we are real.'
With each statement they crept closer, until finally I could feel the breaths of those closest to me.